First aid

How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: November 8, 2023
How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking

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Dogs can often eat otherwise inedible objects with relative ease and suffer no obvious ill effects. This does not mean they are incapable of choking. In many ways, dogs are more prone to choking. They use their mouths to interact with their environment and chewing is a common behavior. Whether a ball, bone or any foreign object, chewing on objects can cause them to break off into smaller pieces which can easily become dislodged in their throat. In these cases, the dog can start choking and panic, increasing the risk and entailing a medical emergency.

A choking emergency will mean we have to act fast. The Heimlich maneuver is a first-aid procedure which is used in human medicine, but it can also be effective on choking dogs. AnimalWised explains how to give a dog the Heimlich maneuver when choking with diagrams to better show you want to do.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Has Something Stuck in Their Throat
  1. Giving a dog the Heimlich maneuver
  2. Heimlich maneuver in dogs step-by-step guide
  3. When to use the Heimlich maneuver in dogs
  4. What to do if the Heimlich maneuver does not work on the dog

Giving a dog the Heimlich maneuver

Although the Heimlich maneuver can save a dog's life in the right circumstances, it is also a risky procedure which can cause trauma to the dog's chest. Before performing abdominal thrusts on a dog, we need to ensure other less aggressive methods are not more suitable. This can remove the foreign body from obstructing the dog's airways without risking trauma to the abdomen or chest.

If you see that your dog is choking and suspect a foreign object is obstructing their airway, you will need to follow this procedure:

  1. Stay calm: even if we are in a very stressful situation, it is important we do not cause the dog to panic any more than they already are. This could increase their respiratory rate and raise the threat of your dog suffocating.

  2. Examine their throat: open the dog's mouth and shine a flashlight into their mouth so you can have a better picture of their airways to identify the object. If you can see the object and are sure there is no risk of damaging their soft tissue, you can remove it. To do so, you need to insert your index finger and thumb into the mouth and try to grab the entire object. If you cannot or if you feel the object has stuck into the throat tissue, do not try to pull it out. You may cause serious damage or even push the object further down and exacerbate the obstruction.

  3. Pat their back: if you cannot extract the foreign body with your fingers, try giving your pet several pats on the back on the area between their shoulder blades. This need to be firm and dry pats, but use appropriate force, especially with small or weakened dogs.

  4. Try lifting them: if the previous step is not effective, we should try one last method before performing the Heimlich maneuver. If your dog is sufficiently small, you can hold them by the pelvis and invert their body so their mouth is facing the ground. Shake gently and see if the foreign body will come out with the help of gravity. You can do this with larger dogs, but you may not be able to lift them off the ground.

If none of these techniques is effective, you should proceed to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog. We explain how to do so with diagrams in the next sections.

How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking - Giving a dog the Heimlich maneuver

Heimlich maneuver in dogs step-by-step guide

Performing the Heimlich maneuver correctly is vital in avoiding unintentional harm. Even when performed correctly, the Heimlich maneuver can cause damage due to the thrusting action required. For this reason, you will need to follow these steps to do the Heimlich maneuver on a dog:

  1. Position yourself so the dog's back is tight to your chest.
  2. Locate the area where you are going to do the abdominal thrusts. This is the point where the chest cavity ends and the abdominal cavity begins. To do so, palpate the sternum (hard bone in the middle of the chest) until you reach its end and feel a soft depressible area.
  3. Ball one hand into a fist and place it at this compression point. Cover this fist with the other hand and hold tight.
  4. To perform the necessary abdominal thrusts, squeeze your fist at the compression point towards yourself and pull up at the same time. Repeat 4-5 times.
  5. Check that the object has been expelled and that your pet is breathing normally again. If not, repeat the abdominal thrusts.

Even if the Heimlich maneuver is effective and the object is expelled, it is important to go to a veterinarian. Foreign bodies can cause internal injuries to the respiratory tract and the process of performing the Heimlich can cause trauma to bones, cartilage or even internal organs. Lower-rib fractures are particularly common, especially if we have used a lot of force. A professional evaluation will ensure the dog's health after the Heimlich has been used.

When to use the Heimlich maneuver in dogs

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid procedure that should only be used in cases of choking caused by foreign bodies. These objects are those that cause severe airway obstruction.

As stated above, the Heimlich maneuver is an aggressive technique that can cause internal damage such as rib fractures or vital organ trauma. For this reason it should only be reserved for veterinary emergencies, i.e. when the dog is in immediate danger of suffocation. A dog can have something stuck in their throat, but it won't necessarily be a veterinary emergency. The dog may even be able to dislodge the object themslves after a time.

In cases where the dog has something obstructing their airways, but it is not causing suffocation, we still need to take action. If we cannot remove the object ourselves without hurting the dog, we should take them to a veterinarian.

How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking - When to use the Heimlich maneuver in dogs

What to do if the Heimlich maneuver does not work on the dog

If the Heimlich maneuver is ineffective and the foreign body continues to obstruct the animal's airway, it will be essential to go to a veterinary center as soon as possible. In these cases, acting quickly and diligently will be crucial for the survival of the animal.

A clinical picture of suffocation is a situation of maximum urgency that requires immediate veterinary attention, since the life of the animal is in imminent danger. Once at the veterinary center, the team that cares for your pet will proceed to perform an emergency tracheotomy.

This procedure consists of making a cut in the trachea with the aim of once again allowing the passage of air form the outside into the lungs. This allows for ventilation and the necessary respiration of the dog. In the event that your dog has lost consciousness and/or has gone into cardiorespiratory arrest, it will be necessary to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to try to restore the animal's cardiorespiratory function (see diagram below).

How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking - What to do if the Heimlich maneuver does not work on the dog

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking, we recommend you visit our First aid category.

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How to Give a Dog the Heimlich Maneuver When Choking